$17.7M settlement after officer left quadriplegic

The University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center has reached a $17.7 million settlement with a former Stone Park, IL, police officer who suffered a brain injury due to medical negligence, according to the officer's law firm.

George Nissen, 47, of Melrose Park also will receive $1.5 million from a nursing agency. The University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved the hospital's portion of the settlement — $16.2 million, and the Circuit Court of Cook County is expected to make final approval, according to Nissen's attorneys Steven M. Levin, JD, and Margaret P. Battersby, JD, of Levin & Perconti; and Louis Berns, JD, of Favil David Berns & Associates.

The attorneys claim Nissen suffered a brain stem herniation when hospital staff failed to properly monitor his intracranial pressure during an external ventricular drain. As a result of the nursing staff's negligence, attorneys said, Nissen now suffers from quadriplegia. He cannot eat or speak, and can only communicate to family, friends, and caregivers through eye movements and head shaking.

On Feb. 13, 2005,according to the lawsuit, as provided in a summary by the attorneys, Nissen was admitted to the neurosurgical intensive care unit of UIC after suffering a stroke believed to be caused by an injury suffered during an altercation while making an arrest as a Stone Park police officer. Physicians attempted to drain excess fluid from his brain, and on Feb. 21, Nissen's doctors ordered the nursing staff to test the drain by clamping it to determine if he was stable enough to remove it.

The lawsuit alleged that during this test, nursing staff failed to properly monitor Nissen's intracranial pressure. Throughout the night, Nissen's intracranial pressure was at dangerous levels, but his caregivers failed to recognize changes in his neurological condition or notify a physician, the lawsuit claimed.

The lawsuit was filed against two UIC staff nurses caring for Nissen, along with a health care staffing agency and an agency nurse who cared for Nissen that evening. The UIC staff nurse and the charge nurse assigned to Nissen failed to report Nissen's changing condition to a physician and did not give the agency nurse who took over Nissen's care an adequate patient report at the end of her shift, Nissen's lawyers said. The agency nurse had no prior experience caring for patients in the neurosurgical intensive care unit and was not qualified to care for Nissen, according to the lawsuit.